Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Concise Look at Catholic Liturgy (and Music)

This not-long speech/essay has all the right stuff.

...The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of the individual's reverence and worship for God. It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such. Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual. It does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of a church. The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful as such - the Church - a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.

By and by, he gets to senses.

...You may be familiar with the old adage that the eye is the gateway to the soul. I have always found this a particularly persuasive idea, for it recognizes the fundamental fact that there is something deep within each of us that responds to beauty. 

...the liturgy is not solely visual, but rather engages all the senses, and in the same way it is not only corporeal but it also has an irreducible spiritual element. The liturgy therefore heightens in us an awareness of the intrinsic relationship between beauty and truth, just as it is, of its nature, constituted of these elements and should clearly become a vehicle for them when we celebrate it.

Central to the Christian revelation is the teaching that ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10,17). In that sense, it is not only the eye which is the gateway to heaven, but in a very real way, the ear too

 ...which brings him to music, specifically music for worship:

...liturgical chant is first and foremost cantillation, a song which arises from the text, a song which is essentially a heightened proclamation of a verbal message and which takes its emphases from the natural accentuation of the text and finds its melodic rhythm from the cadence which is already within the words.

OK.  That's very solid ground.  So what happened?  Was it "Vatican Two"?

[By roughly 1965] the Pastoral Liturgical Movement, as it had become, had largely abandoned the principles which motivated Dom GuĂ©ranger and the renewal he initiated, in favour of influences which are more broadly ecumenical and introduce into the Roman Liturgy elements which are more commonly found outside the Catholic Church. Nowhere was this influence more keenly felt than in the realm of liturgical music, for the principle that a repertoire of liturgical chant which had been proper to the Mass, at least in its most solemn celebrations, was largely and almost universally set aside in preference for music which might be most accurately described as ‘non-liturgical’ in character, given its frequent lack of dependence on liturgical or biblical texts and its introduction into our liturgical celebrations of a voice which is in many ways alien to the spirit of the liturgy.

This is the modern-day inheritance of the ‘Low-Mass’ culture which envisages a largely spoken liturgy punctuated at key moments by congregational singing.

IOW, it was long, long, before VatII that all this stuff started.  And he's not gentle in condemnation:

...If it is true that the past forty years have established something of a hermeneutic of discontinuity with regard to liturgical chant, to the extent that our authentic and most ancient tradition is widely seen as alien and unfamiliar and musical genres previously unthinkable in a liturgical context are commonly considered acceptable and even desirable, then we have truly lived through the most extraordinary revolution which has impoverished our understanding of the mystery we celebrate to the same extent as it has decimated the number of our people who regularly participate in the celebration of the Mass.

Put another way:  if there's nothing particularly special about the Mass, why go?

The essay is not nuanced; one could spend an entire four-year education on the topic(s) he addresses.  But the liturgical movement begun by Guardini is renascent today, for good reason.

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